Yesterday evening, Gatwick airport’s runway was closed and flights diverted after a drone was spotted flying in the vicinity of the airfield. Gatwick tweeted: "Unconfirmed reports of a drone sighting led to runway suspension for a total of 14 mins. Operations fully resumed and police investigating." EasyJet, the biggest airline at Gatwick, was the airline the worst affected. Its flight from Milan to Gatwick experienced over three hours delay after it was forced to be diverted to Bournemouth.
Passengers were told: "We're very sorry that your flight has diverted to Bournemouth because of a drone flying around Gatwick. We plan to fly you to Gatwick soon. We're very sorry for this inconvenience."
Other flights had to land at Southend or Stansted airports. Craig Jenkins, who was flying with Easyjet from Naples, Italy, told the BBC: "We were crossing over the Channel and it started circling.
"It did four or five circles, heading further east, before the captain said we were landing at Stansted.
"First, they said Gatwick was closed because of an incident. Then, shortly after, they said it was a drone."
Jenkins said passengers were given the choice of disembarking at Stansted or waiting an hour and flying back to Gatwick.
The Civil Aviation Authority said there were serious consequences for people who broke the rules when flying drones.
"Drone users have to understand that when taking to the skies they are potentially flying close to one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world.
"[It is] a complex system that brings together all manner of aircraft including passenger aeroplanes, military jets, helicopters, gliders and light aircraft," a spokesman said.
"It is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment."
If the drone owner can be traced by police, they could be liable for the tens of thousands of pounds that the disruption has cost airlines, as well as criminal prosecution.
Drone disruption at British airports is becoming a major problem, with 70 incidents in 2016 and 33 so far in 2017, according to the UK Airprox Board – a safety body jointly funded by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Defence.